Category Archives: Book reviews, summaries and excerpts

Summary of Bauman’s The Individualised Society – The Way We Are

Section One – The Way We  Are – Section 1/3, chapters 1-6

Chapter One  – The Rise and Fall of Labour

This chapter explains that the decline of the labour movement is due the extraterritorial power of Capital.

The industrial revolution led to labour being uprooted from its age old link to nature and then tied to Capital in commodity form, thus it could be bought and exchanged. In the era of heavy modernity, where profit derived from Fordist/ Taylorist big scale heavy production, capital and labour were dependent on each other for their well-being and reproduction because they were rooted in place,  hence the historic power of unions and the welfare state. It is was in everyone’s interests to keep labour in good condition.

All of the above gave rise to a long-term (and collective?) mentality– as illustrated in collective bargaining through unions and also through the fact that pretty much all nineteenth century thinkers thought that there would be an end point to constant change, even if the means and ends to that end point differed.

All that has changed now – we have moved from a long term mentality to a short term one. The features of work today are as follows:

Short term contracts (partners no longer intend to stay long in each others company) Flexibility Work is like a High Achieving Sport (following Geert van der Laan) – The people in it work very hard, but fewer of us actually compete. Working life is saturated with uncertainty – the nature of work is that anyone can be sacked at short notice with no warning signs, and the logic of promotions are less apparent.

Such uncertainties are a powerful indivdualising force – when work is like a campsite (not a home) there is little incentive to take an interest in the organisation, and thus solidarity is lost. We find ourselves in a time of weak ties (Grannoveter) or fleeting associations (Sennet).

This disengagement between capital and labour is not one-sided – Capital has set itself loose from from its dependency on labour, its reproduction and growth has become by and large independent of the duration of any particular local engagement with labour. Extraterritorial capital is not yet completely free of local ties – it still has to deal with governments but, paradoixcally, the only way for governments to attract Capital is to convince it that it is free to move away – and to give it what it requires.

Speed of Movement (following Crozier) now seems to be the main stratifier in the hierachy of domination – ideas are now more profitable than production, and ideas are had only once, not reproducted a thousand times, and when it comes to making ideas profitable the objects of competition are consumers not producers, and this is now Capital’s primary relation – thus the ‘holding power’ of the local labour force is weakened.

Thus (following Robert Reich) we now have four categories of economic acvitity –

  1. Symbol manipulators – For example those involved in the knowledge economy and marketers.
  2. Those who work to reproduce labour – Mainly teachers.
  3. Those who work in personal services – A whole range of things from Estate Agents to Hairdressers.
  4. Routine labourers – low skilled people who make things – these are the lowest paid and have the least secure obs because they expendable and they know it!

Following Peyrefitte Bauman now characterises Modernity as an attempt to build confidence and trust – in onself, in others and in institutions – Modernity did this and work was its primary vehicle – there was trust in the general frame – now this is gone – when delayering and downsizing is the norm, people no longer invest in it – they would rather trust (eg) the fleeting stock market than the collective bargaining power of unions.

Pierre Bordieu links the decline of politics and collective action to people’s inability to get a hold on the present (because without a hold on the present, we cannot get a grip on the future). This is especially true of today’s mass labourers who are tied to the local while capital is extraterritorial –  means they are apriori in an inferior position – when they cannot control capital, why would they engage with politics?

It is the passage from heavy to light modernity that provides the context for the decline of the labour movement. Other explanations are insuffient.

Summary/ commentary/ questions

In the postmodern era Capital has (and requires) more freedom of movement than in the modern era. The primary reason for this is the growth of consumer markets – rapidly changing tastes mean people buying and throwing away at a faster pace, and to keep up with this Capital needs to be able to shift itself around faster – free to drop old ideas and production practices as they become unfashionable or unprofitable.

As a result workers mass-labourers are powerless – they are rooted to place, as are national governments – both can only compete in a race to the bottom to try and make things as attractive as possible to globally mobile capital.

For such workers, their efforts are in vein – they are expendable and they know it, hence they are less likely to join unions and less likely to get involved in politics – neither of these make any sense when they don’t have a grip on the present – when they do not have any purchase on security of livelihood.

Speed of movement seems to be the main differentiating factor in the post-modern society.

NB – There are some workers who do OK out of these arrangements, mainly the ‘symbol manipulators’ but these have to be extremely adaptable to survive in the era of globally mobile capital!

Q: This could be an untestable theory? How does one measure the ‘mobility of Capital’ and its effects on employment?

 

Chapter Two – Local Orders, Global Chaos

Order is a situation where you can predict the probality of something happening. Some things are probable, some unlikely. Order suggests a degree of predictibility, and it is order which gives rise to the confidence that you can engage in an action knowing what the outcome is likely to be – order boils down to the manipulating the probablities of events.

The opposite of order is chaos – or a situation where there is always a 50-50 chance of any two events happening.

The manipulating of events and the production of order out of chaos is what culture does on a daily basis.  We speak of a cultural crisis if the order of culture is breached too often.

Culture also differentiates. This is because order is created by categorising, setting boundaries – Difference is the result of this order building activity

However, in every culture there are those who transgress boundaries, who do not fit, those who are ambivalent, and such ambivalences are unlikely to disappear because in reality no attempt to classify the complexities of the world are ever going to be able to accommodate the actual complexity of the world, and hence the more culture or order there is, the more ambivalence.

Culture may well be an attempt to distance chaos by creating order but the result is ambivalence (a self-defeating process!).

Because of their unsavoury yet intimate connections with the state of uncertainty,  the impurity of classifications, the haziness of borderline and the porousness of borders are constant sources of fear and agression, and these are inseperable from order-making and order-guarding exertions (33)

Order is also important in the global power struggle – Imposing order onto others is one way of gaining power. The more routine and predictable one’s life is, the more order, the less power. Order is something the powerless suffer and which the powerful impose, whereas they themselves (the elite) are relatively free to move as they please.

The above logic is at work in globalisation – Globalisation is a world disorder – It is presented to us as chaotic (a genesis discourse) rather than predictable (a Joshua Discourse) and order is an index of powerlessness. The new global power structure is operated by the opposition between mobility and sedentariness, contingency and routine, rarity and desnsity of constraints. Globalisation may be termed ‘the revenge of the nomads’.

Escape and volility rather than ominous presence (like bureacracy and the panopticon) are now the means of power. Normative regulation (which was costly) is no longer necessary in the age of flexibility – what keeps the precariat in check today is their vulnerability – They race to the bottom in an attempt to attract ultra mobile capital, aided in this by state policies of precariatisation. It is irrational for them to mobilise collectively because if they do capital will just take flight.

In terms of knowledge, space matters much less than it did in the past, and according to Paul Virillio, it doesn’t matter at all. In the age of instaneous global communications, local knowledges which are based on face to face interactions and gatherings have much less authority. We get our information through cyberspace, and thus actual space matters less. However, for those doomed to be local, this is felt as powerlessness.

The elite used to accumulate things, now they discard them and have to be compfortable dwelling in chaos. Bill Gates is the archetype – constantly striving to produce new things in act of creative destruction. Chaos is thus no longer a burden in the culture of the elite, who experience it as play, but this is a curse for those lower down the order, who would wish to slow down the changes that are imposed on them as a result of the elites’ creative destruction.

Those who can afford it live in time, those who cannot live in space. For the former space does not matter, while for the later they struggle hard to make it matter.

Summary/ Comment/ Questions

Culture is an attempt to create order out of chaos – and in doing so it sets rules/ norms/ boundaries. However, this is a self-defeating process, because the result of order building is ambivalence – the more a culture becomes obsessed with order buidling, the more differentiation occurs, and the more scope for the established boundaries being transgressed.

Order is important in the global power struggle – the ability to impose order on others is a mark of power, to subject them to a routine, to limit them, while the ability to avoid having order imposed on you, to be free, is also a mark of power. Having order imposed is something the weak have done to them.

However, the elite no longer have to be present to impose order – they manage to do this by being free-floating – it is volatility which keeps people individualised and thus powerless and doomed to be local. (Limited to only certain types of freedom, but not the freedom to construct a more stable society).

Furthermore, local knowledges facilitated by face to face communications are undermined by global communications networks. This further undermines the ability of the precariate to act collectively.

Those who can afford it live in time, those who do not live in space.

Question – Doesn’t this somewhat overlook Glocalism – especially Permacultural elements of the green movement – albeit extremely fringe?

 

Chapter Three – Freedom and Security: The Unfinished Story of a Tempestuous Union

Starts with Freud – In order to be happy man must fulfil his desires (individual freedom) but he exchanges these in ‘civilisation’ for security, so that he can be free from the suffering of his own body, other men, and nature. Security is gained when the impulses are tamed and replaced with order in the form of culture which imposes compulsive (habitual) action on individuals. However this compulsive action restricts our freedom, and human life is a situation in which the urge for freedom constantly battles against the damn put up by culture.

In other words, there is a trade-off between the need for freedom and the need for security – we need both, but to get one we have to sacrifice the other, and the sacrifice of either results in suffering. It follows that happiness can only ever be a fleeting thing as we flit between too much freedom or too much security, and finding the best-trade off is an ongoing process.

Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.

Alain Ehrenberg suggests that rather than unhappiness stemming from man’s inability to live up to cultural ideals, it is rather then absence of any clear ideals which results in a not knowing how to act, this is the source of mental depression – and not knowing how to act rationally inparticular. This is the malady of our post-modern times.

Impotence and inadequacy are the diseases of our late modern, post modern times. It is not the fear of non-conformity but the fear of not being able to conform, not transgression but boundlessness which are our problems. (Unlike in modern times, big brother is gone and there are numerouses Joneses who couldn’t care less about our quests for our ‘true selves’).

This is freedom, but the cost is insecurity, unsafety and uncertainty (Unsicherheit) – We have the freedom to act but we cannot know whether our actions will have the desired result, yet we do know that we will bare the costs for bad decisions.

Individually we stand, indivudally I fall.

Following Norbert Elias’ book title ‘The society of inidividuals’ – society consists of two forces locked in a battle of freedom and domination – society shaping the individuality of its members, and the individuals forming society out of their actions while pursuing strategies plausible and feasible within the socially woven web of their dependencies.

However, it is important to note that the process of individualisation is different today from modern times.

In modern times class divisions arose out of different access to the resources required to self-assert – The working classes lacked the means to do so and turned to collectivism to assert themselves, while the middle classes were able to be more individualistic – yet they generally responded to being disembedded through attempts to re-embed.

However, individualisation today is a fate and not a choice. In the land of individual freedom of choice the option to escape individualisation and not participate are not on the agenda. We are told that if we fail it is our fault, and we must find biographical solutions to problems which are socially created.

There is a difference between the self-asserting and self-sustaining individual and the individualised individual.

Can there be politics in the individualised society?

The Self-Assertive ability of men falls short of what genunine self-assertion would require – the choices we are free to make are generally trivial.

There are two consequences of individualisation for politics – Individuals by decree do not seek to solve their problems collectively, they just look to others for advice about how to cope with their problems (e.g. chat shows), and they tend to to view committing to acting with others as too limiting on their own freedom. Individuals by decree do not see engaging in public life as a duty, they tend to see it as an investment and only do so when they can get something back, and as a result the only thing individuals by decree tend to ask of society is minimal – to protect their bodies from danger and to protect their property rights.

Hence why networks are the new norm in the postmodern society – which consist of shallow connections (weak ties) as they are easy to access and easy to leave. As a result, in the individualised society the individual is not really a citizen because they have invested so little of themselves in that society.

Togetherness, indivdual style

The gap between the right of self assertion and the ability to influence the social settings which render such self-assertion feasible or unrealistic seems to be the biggest contradiction of second modernity, and we would do well to tackle this collectively.

Short termism and selfishness are rational responses to a precarious world – We have all been hit by global econonomic forces over which we (or seemingly no one else) has control, or we know someone who has (downsizing etc.) and so the rational response to this is to look to oneself, not invest in collectivism. No one seems to be discussing the fact that this uncertain world is human made, and that what we are dealing with is the ‘the political economy of uncertainty’.

The root of the problem is the flight of power from politics – capital is extraterritorial and politics remains rooted to space – and the political solutions to the problems mobile capital creates is yet more freedom for capital – because there is no global institution that is capable of doing the job of regulating it. No one seems to have any solutions!

When individals accept their impotence en masse (following Cornelius Castoriadis) – society becomes heteronomous – pushed rather than guided, plankton like, drifting, it is like people on a ship who have abandoned any attempt at steering the vessel, and so at the end of the modern advernture with a self-governing, autonomous human world, we enter the era of mass confromity

Making the individualised society safe for democracy

Democracy is an anarchic force – one best recognises democracy when it is complaining about not being democratic enough. Democracy is a constant battle to find the right balance between freedom and security. For most of modernity the fight has been for more freedom, now we need to focus more on security. However, the biggest danger of all is that we call off the fight to get the balance right by opting out of the social process (and engage with society only as indivduals).

What is to be done? We need global instituitons to limit the flow of capital, at the state level – basic income. However, a bigger question is who is to do it?

Summary, Comment and Questions

I think Bauman is trying to say too much in this section – It’s much easier to understand some of what he says by cutting out about a third of it and reording it….

Capital is freefloating and the average person’s job is more precarious, and there are no global or national institutions capabable of controlling International Capital (power, says Bauman, has departed from politics). Because of this, people see no point people getting involved in politics, and thus we no longer seek collective solutions to social problems and we only ask society to do the bare minimum for us.

In short, structural changes in the nature of Capitalism have altered the way we perceive politics – we now see it as pointless and thus we are no longer contributing to the construction of our society.

Instead, we seek biographical (personal) solutions to these systemic problems – . Rather than getting involved in long-haul politics, we limit our range of vision, our range of options to choosing how to better surviving or cope in this precarious world – we spend our time re-training, or improving our C.V.  (marketing) to make us more employable or promotable, for example. (Bauman says that selfishness and shortermism are a rational response to a precarious world). We are spured on by our efforts because we know that if we fail in our efforts we will be held responsible for the the consequences of our inability to keep ourselves employable.

The key thing here is that this limited range of choices we are choosing between is forced on us – we haven’t actively decided to not engage with society as political beings, the social structure has changed in such a way that politcs is now (objectively?) pointless, and we don’t know how to fix it, thus we narrow our range of vision to focussing on that narrow range of events we think we can control, and doing so, Capital becomes freer, and so our lives become even more unstable.

This is why Bauman says…. The gap between self-assertion and the ability to affect the social settings which make that assertion realistic (which is required for ‘genuine self-assertion’ ) is the biggest contradiction of second modernity.This is because what we are currently witnessing is individualisation by fate which falls well short of genuine self-determination – In general the choices we are free to make are relatively trivial.

Comment

Firstly, Interestingly, this theory does not depend on there being a false consciousness  – whether we fail to see that there are systemic contradictions which are causing this need to continually update ourselves to keep ourselves employable or whether we see it but simply cannot see any alternative is moot – the point is the important thing is whether or not we perceive the systemic contradictions, we KNOW that if we do not try we will be held responsible for our failure by society, and it is this ‘responsibilisation’ which is compelling us to keep on keeping on.

Secondly, I guess this links back to why Bauman perceives the decline of the Welfare State is so bad, because it’s very existence assumes that it is not our own fault that we sometimes might suddently find ourselves unemployed.

 

Chapter Four – Modernity and Clarity – The Story of a Failed Romance.

When reason tells us that the world is an uncertain place, indecision of the will is the result. Ambivalence is a mixing of the doubts of reason and this indecision of the will.

The more my freedom grows in terms of the greater the range of future possibilities, then the less grip on the present I have. The less freedom I have, the greater my grip on the present.

In considering freedom we need to consider the difference between the range of viable possibilities on offer, which possibilities I wish to achieve and my ability to achieve them. If the volume of possibilties exceeds the capacity of the will then restlessness and anxiety are the result, but if I lack the means to attain a possibility I desire then withdrawel is the result.

Freedom, Ambivalence and Sceptisism seem to go together.

After a few pages outlining the historical development of sceptisism in philosophy, Bauman points out that modern sceptics were pretty much universally obsessed with order building, as exemplified in the popularity of order building – Modernity was fundamentally a legislative process.

The mission of modernity was (in Freudian terms) wasto restrain the pleasure principle with the reality principle, or (in Durkheimian terms) to socialise the individual so that they would never want what they couldn’t achieve  and would want to do what was socially useful – real freedom meant to live like a slave (to one’s desires), society’s job was to get people to agree to acceptable freedoms and duties. In short, Modernity was about cutting the ‘I want’ down to the ‘I can’. Restricting people’s desires was the way Modernity dealt with the problem of ambivalence.

Or to sum up – The modern project was about society determining what freedoms were possible and then legislating and socialising so that people internalised these legitimate wants. Here we can see the origins of modernity’s totalitarian tendencies.

Two things in retrospect – this project has failed, and it has been abandoned. One reason this battle with ambivalence failed because the powers of creative destruction and the inidvidual’s desires played second fiddle to the ‘objective’ contstraints imposed on them.

Today it is desire itself which fuels social change – Needs creation seems to be the main thing which Capitalism does (following Bordieu). The way we integrate into society is as consumers – and we can only integrate if our wants constantly exceed our current level of satisfaction. (The only exception to this is the underclass, but they are the minority – their wants are managed, limited).

(p68) The permanent disharmony between wants and the ability to achieve them is for the postmodern era functional – hence why we have a high degree of ambivalence in identity formation, social integration and systemic reproduction.

Today the market requires ambivalence and we are free to enjoy its wares, but we are unfree to avoid the consequences (downsizing etc.) because the only solutions on offer to help us deal with the downsides of the free market are market-solutions.

A second reason why modernity failed to tackle ambivalence is because modernity was always local, and it resulted in many localities with different solutions to ambivalence. Hence why we have neotribalisms and fundamentalism – these aim to heal the pain of ambivalence by cutting down choices – but the nature of these responses is that they are unpredictable.

The 300 year war against ambivalence is not over, it has just changed its form – it is no longer carried out by conscript armies but by guerilla units which erratically errupt occassionnally between the brightly lit consumer malls.

Summary, Commentary and Questions

When we have too much freedom, ambivalence is the result (ambivalence is a mixture of the doubts of reason (uncertainty over the probablity of events) and the resulting indecision)

Modernity attempted to reduce ambivalence by order building – society determined what freedoms were necessary and desirable and then socialised people into thinking in this way – restricting their freedom, replacing the ‘I want’ with the ‘I can’. People’s desires came second to the social.

With consumer-capitalism, however, things are now reversed. Needs creation is the main thing Capitalism now does – profitability requires us to desire things, and once we have those things to tire of them quickly and desire new things. Fuelling Individual desire lies at the heart of modern Capitalism.

However, there is a growing gap between our growing (unfulfilled) desires and our ability to achieve them, and this creates ambivalence, which today is functional for Capitalism.

There is nothing in mainstream society that offers us an escape from this, nothing that offers us structure and certainty and a limt to our desires – at the level of social integration, we integrate as consumers, at the level of identity construction we must make choices based on consumption, and at the level of societal reproduction, this requires people to be consumers. The message is clear – you are free to consume, free to make a choices.

However, we are not free to escape from this because the only solutions to our confused state of having too much choice are market-solutions. This is why Bauman said we are compelled to make these choices, forced into making more and more choices by a system that requires us to make choices.

There are movements which offer alternatives to consumerism – Fundamentalisms and Neotribalisms – but these do not offer the possiblity for systemic reproduction because they tend to be local, and are thus only ‘guerilla movements’ between the brightly lit shopping malls which perpetuate ambivalence at the levels of the system and the lifeworld in general.

Commentary

Again I think Bauman here is extremely verbose – He’s basically saying that the system requires that we keep on buying and discarding, buying and discarding at ever faster rates and so we are sort of forced into making consumer choices. This ‘built in obsolence’ is the very basis of the system and it destabilises us, bewilders us, makes us uncertain of what we should be doing and uncertain of who we are.

I think Bauman maybe ignores elemts of the green movement and the anti-consumerist movement – these have the potential to resocialise people into constraining their desires on the basis of a global ethics of responsibility for the other, and do, in fact, specifically focus on how the local and the global intersect.

 

Chapter Five – Am I my brother’s keeper?

The concept of the welfare state has changed from being a safety net to a springboard. Its success is judged by the extent to which it renders itself unecessary – by getting people back into work. The unspoken assumption behind this is that dependence is something which is to be ashamed of – ‘decent people’ simply do not entertain the idea of being on welfare.

According to Levinas, our starting point should be ethics – I am my brothers keeper, because his well-being hinges on what I do and refrain from doing. He is dependent on me. To question this dependence by asking the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper’, asking for reasons why I should care, is to stop being a moral being, because morality hinges on (internalising?) this crucial dependent relationship.

The need of the other and taking responsibility for meeting that need is the cornerstone of ethics according to Levinas. This has been the basis of the Judeo-Christian form for a long time, and the idea unrpinned the welfare state, but this idea is now well and truly under attack.

The welfare state came into being because of a conflaction of factors – simultaneously a result of ethical intentions, labour movement struggle, and the need to diffuse political tensions, but also because it was in the interest of both labour and capital. Both industry and the state benefitted from having a reserve army of labour – because profit was derived from the number of people employed and state-power was derived from the size of the reserve national-army.

However, the nature of unemployment has changed today – They are not a reserve army of labour because downsizing means they are unlikely to be recalled by industry, and they have no social function – they are not needed for work and they are not useful as consumers – because the products they need are low profit and they cannot afford anything else. Hence the recasting of them as the underclass – society would be better off without them, so best to forget them! Free floating capital has no need to keep local-underclasses nourished. To illustrate this Bauman draws on Beck’s ‘The Brave New World of Work’ – only 1 in 2 Europeans have regular, full-time employment.

We hear nothing of people’s lives turned around by social security,  but we hear a lot about the minority of welfare scroungers. The underclass in popular imagination is demonised.

Why? Because the life of the average worker is fraught with uncertainty and anxiety – as is the consumer lifestyle he adopts — Ordinary life in short is miserable – Cynically the creating of an underclass whose lot looks miserable and who we can look down on – a life even worse than our own – makes us a little less miserable. However, they do get some stability – in the form of welfare cheques and it is this that the average flexible worker perceives – rather than their suffering on account of their not being able to access the many opportunities on offer. This also means the prospects for solidarity with the poor are slim. To the average person, the welfare state gets no support.

Because there is no rational economic reason for the welfare state, we should go back and make the ethical argument for it….. I am my brothers keeper, we are all dependent on eachother and a society should be mesured by its weakest link.

What moral duty implies is inherently ambivalent – it requires constant communication, it is not open to mesurability (bureacracy etc.) – It is always asking the question what is best for that person, what do they need, without me becoming a mere tool of that person, and how do we negotiate around things when our ideas about what is good comes into conflict with theirs.

To sum up – there is no rational reason to support the welfare state, but the ethical argument does not depend on rationality – it is its own starting point – It is better to live for other other, it is better to stand in misery rather than to be indifferent – even if this does not make a society more profitable. This should be the starting point!

I don’t think this needs any translating, for once just summarising it once makes it understandable.

 

Chapter Six – United in Difference

Many aspects of modern living contribute to a feeling of uncertainty – the feeling that the world in which we live, and the future is uncontrollable, and thus frightening – Thus we live today in a culture of ambient fear (following Doel and Clarke).

The things which contribute to this are as follows:

  1.  The capacity of the nation state to put things in order, to classify things and set the future has dramatically declined since the collapse of communism (this is basically the collapse of metanarratives applied to politics). Moreover the rest of the world does not look to the ‘civilisational centre’ (the developed world) for guidance any more. The main relation between the two seems to be that the rich supply weapons to facilitate numerous tribal conflicts – The New Barbarism might be an apt way to describe globalisation.
  2. Universal deregulation – the tearing up of all other freedoms other than those granted to capital – so that everything else gets subjected to the irrationality of market forces. The freedom of capital benefits from weak states – this is a new world disorder. The vast majority lose out in this process – inequality increases but it is not only the marginalised who are harmed, very few of us feel secure in our homes or our jobs – human rights do not extend to the right to a job, the right to social secuirty, or the right to dignity.
  3. The self-woven safey net of the family and the community, based on people connections and indigenous konwledges (connections for the sake of connections, with long term commitments) have been severly weakened – at this level of social integration we are increasingly dependent on technologies and the market, and so such bonds reflect the uncertainties inherent to these things. Also, we increasingly cast the other as sources of pleasure, asking what we can get from them, rather than what we can do for them.  4. Culture is soft and indeterminet – human connections are cast into successive encounters and Human identities are fragmented, a series of masks. Rather than our identity being like us building a house, it is rather that we put up a series of pre-fabricated buildings, tear one down and then put up another. The fragments of life do not necessarily relate to the other fragments… In our culture the art of forgetting is more useful than remembering.

These are some, not all of the features of postmodern life which result in uncertainty – anxiety.

Modern cities are places of perpetual strangers – Strangers are by definition messy, they do not fit in with your system of order – and thus cities are patchwork places in which no one will feel comfortable everywhere. The chief stratifier in the modern city is the extent to which you have freedom of movement – the extent to which you can avoid the areas you don’t want to go into and get to the areas where you do want to get to. In other words, city dwellers are stratified by the extent to which they can ignore the presence of strangers.

For the better off the messiness of strangers can be avoided – For those in the suburbs, strangers are an occassional pleasure when they want to interact with them, and those who provide services for them. For the poor, however, dealing with strangers cannot be avoided, and they are experienced as a threat to their sense of orderliness. They live in areas where they are not able to choose, and lack the money to escape, so they vent their frustrations in other ways – everything from racism to riots for example. Following Cohen, people feel as if they are losing their sense of home because of the stranger (but the strangers are not the real cause of course, they are just a symptom).

Bauman now proposes  that specific forms of postmodern violence stem from the privatisation, deregulation and decentralisation of identity problems – the dismantling of collective institutions through which people can come together means people no longer discuss what the root causes of their shared identitity problems might be.

We have an opportunity here – of bringing to a conclusion the disembedding work of modernity – now the individual has been set free, we can move beyond nationalism and tribalism and rethink what it means to live as humanity – and here the rights of the stranger are fundamental. This will be an involved process… the sole universal guiding principle should be the right to choose one’s identity as the sole universality of the citizen/ human – we should celebrate this,and then work on how unity might be achieved with this new diversity. However, there is also ample scope for the balkanisation of politics and tribalism as a response.

We tend to see strangers as either exotic pleasure sources or as exaggerated threats… and this in turn sstems from polarisation of wealth and life chances, but also of the capacity for genuine individuality… until we sort this out the detoxification of strangers and a move forwards to genuine new global concepts of citizenship are a long way off.

Commentary

I guess it’s passages like this that demonstrate Bauman’s Late rather than Post-modern attitude to a postmodern world – there is still hope for the future!

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s The Indivdualised Society (preface)

 

It may sound odd doing a summary of a preface, but there is a lot of heavy stuff in here….

According to Bauman ‘Sociology can help us link our individual decisions and actions to the deeper cause of our troubles and fears – to the way we live, to the conditions under which we act, to the socially drawn limits of our ambition and imagination.’

This book just does this by exploring how Individualisation has become our fate, and by reminding us that if our anxieties are to be addressed, they must be addressed collectively, true to their social, not individual nature.

Lives Told and Stories Lived – An Overture

Bauman begins with Ernest Becker’s denial of death in which Becker suggests that society is ‘a living myth of the signficance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning’ and that ‘Everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny his grotesque fate’ (his eventual death).

He now goes back to Durkheim and argues that connecting oneself to society does not liberate the individual from nature, rather it liberates one from having to think about one’s nature and that genuine freedom comes from exorzing the spectre of mortality (which is ever present when close to nature) by linking oneself to (a more complex) society. It is through society that one tastes immortality – you become part of something which was there before you were born, and which will continue after you die.

(At the indivdual level) knowledge of mortality triggers the desire for transcendence – and this takes two forms – either the desire to leave something behind, a lasting trace of yourself, or the desire to live gloriously now. There is an energy (?) in this desire which society feeds off – it capitalises on this desire by providing credible objects of satisfaction which individuals then spend time pursuing.

The problem with the economy of death transcendence, as with all economies, is that the strategies on offer are scarce – and so there must be limits to how resources can be used. The main purpose of a life strategy (which involve the search for meaning) is to avoid the realisation of the truth of one’s own mortality, and given that all the various life- strategies fall short of this ultimate need-satisfaction it is impossible to call one strategy correct or incorrect.

Two consequences happen as a result.. Firstly, there is the continuus invention of new life-strategies – industries are forever coming up with new strategies for death-denial. Secondly some people are able to captalise on the energy of the quest of death-denial and this is where we get cultural capital and hierarchy from.

So to date Bauman seems to be suggesting that there is a pyschological need to escape facing up to our own mortality, and this is where society comes from. However because any life-strategy we adopt in the attempt to escape death is doomed to failure because all such strategies merely mask the truth of our own mortality which lurks in the background. Because of this, in truth, all such strategies are equally as valid (or equally as invalid) as each other. At the social level this then results in two things – a continues stream of new and improved life-strategies on offer to us from industry and secondly the emergence of cultural capital as those who are able to do so define their own life-strategies as superior which is where hierearchy comes from (and I guess this claiming of mythical superiority is also part and parcel of certain life-strategies of death-denial).

Pause for breath…. Bauman now goes on to say that…

However, just because all life-strategies are far from the truth of death-denial, this does not mean that all miss the targets by the same margin.

Some life-strategies on offer are the result of what Bauman calls ‘surplus manipulation’ of the desire to deny death.  These are at their most viscious when they are biograpical solutions to systemic contradictions (following Beck) and rest on the fake-premise that self-inadequacy is the root cause of one’s anxiety and that the individual needs to look to themselves to solve this.

The result of this is the denial of a collective solution to one’s problems and the lonely struggle with a task which many lack the resources to perform alone which in turn leads to The result is self-censure, self-disparagement, and violence and torture against one’s own body.

I think the logic at work here is (a) Society is an invention which helps us deny death, however (b) in the post-modern age society falls apart – we find it harder and/ or it is less-rational to forge the kind of lasting bonds which will help us collectively deny-death (or strive for immortality to put in a positive phraseology) this results in (c) anxious individuals who are then (d) told by certain people in society (the elite – see below) that they need to find biographical solutions towards immortality (this is the surplus manipulation bit) but in reality this is impossible and so (e) this results in them killing or harming their social selves or actual physical bodies.

Bauman seems to be saying that, in the post-modern age some people, free of society, are thrown back on themselves, their true nature, and can’t handle it, they cannot deny-death alone, and so they kill themselves.

Bauman then goes on to say….

If we look at the whole life-story’ most of are simply not able to practice agency (articulation) – we are not free to simply construct of one set of relations out of another or redefine the context in which life is created. We may be able to do this in the realm of fashion or culture more generally, but not so with all aspects of of our lives.

To rephrases Marx – ‘People make their lives but not under conditions of their choice.’ It may be that we are all story tellers today, we all exercise reflexivity, but life is a game in which the rules of the game, the content of the pack and the way they are shuffled is not examined, rarely talked about.

The problem is that the individualisation narrative seems to assume that everything we do in our whole life is a matter of the choices we have made. This is, in fact, a narrataive that only works for the elite who do have lots of choice – they have resources and are mobile and can use opportunities in today’s mobile age to their advantage.

This narrative, in fact, works for the elite, it is ideological – if everyone thinks everything is open to choice and their fate is their fault, this becomes a nice control mechanism – you don’t need panopticons when people are always trying trying trying and choosing choosing choosing.

Furthermore, what is often precluded in the individualised age are strategies which involve acting together to change the broader social conditions, which just further perpetuates the problem.

In other words if we wish to reduce human suffering and allow individuals the opportunity to get back to collectively denying their own death (or constructing their immortality) then people need to feel as if they can constitutue society, at the moment the ideology of the biographical narrative serves to prevent people from realising this.

This book seems to aim to be a contribution towards bringing about greater genuine articulation (so it’s a shame you need to be educated well beyond graduate level to appreciate it)…..

As Bauman says towards the end of the chapter… ‘Genuine articulation is a human right but perform the task and the exercise the right in full we need all the assistance we can get – and sociologists can help in this by recording and mapping the crucial parts of the web of interconnections and dependencies which are kept hidden or stay invisible from the point of individual experience. Sociology is itself a story – but the message of Sociology is that there are more ways of living a life than is suggested by the stories which each one of us tells.’

Overall Comment

Very interesting to see Bauman starting with Becker – although he doesn’t seem to go back to him at the end of the section, so I really think he’s pushing the boat out a bit too far in terms of how much he tries to include in this introductory paragraph. It doesn’t hold together that well, and you have to read things into it to an extent to complete it, maybe that’s the point?

I’m not comfortable with the idea that society denying-death is OK because it is rational, and that our goal should be to get back to a situation where individuals are free to construct society and thereby get back to affirming themselves and thus denying their own death. This just strikes me as the equivalent of papering over the cracks of a deeper human suffering which The Buddha realised 3000 years ago.

There’s probably an interesting Buddhist response to this – but I’ll post that up when it emerges, which isn’t now, unless someone else gets there first. 

A summary of The End of Poverty Chapter Eight – The Voiceless Dying: Africa and Disease

A summary of The End of Poverty Chapter Eight – The Voiceless Dying: Africa and Disease

I’ve just finished re-reading this – It mainly focusses on how Malaria and AIDs have prevented development in Sub-Saharan Africa and what can be done about it – basically a precursor to the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals. It’s 10 years old now, but fascinating nonethless, especially if you read it along with current progress reports on efforts to combat these two diseases I’ll add in a few updates on the later l8r.

The chapter begins by reminding us that corruption alone is not enough to explain Africa’s poor economic growth in the post-colonial period. In fact, charging Africa with corruption is hypocritical – little surpasses the cruelty and depredations that the West has long imposed on Africa, firstly in the form of Colonialism itself which left Africa bereft of educated leaders and infrastructure, and with arbitrary boarder lines which divided ethnic groups, water courses and mineral deposits in arbitrary ways.

On top of this, as soon as the cold war ended, Africa became a pawn in the Cold War. Assistance was refused to governments who were seen to be pro-communist and some terribly oppressive regimes were actually supported if they were seen to be anti-communist….The most obvious example provided is the installation of Mobutu Sese Seko in the now DRC following the murder of the first Primeminister of the Congo – Patrice Lumumba by CIA and Belgian Operatives, with a similar process happening in at least Angola, Ghana, South Africa (US support for Apartheid), Mozambique and Somalia.

Sachs now cites a 1965 CIA report which summed up the potential for economic growth in Africa as minimal, and stated the view that Africa was unlikely to receive signficant enough investment from the US to make a difference – basically what Africa needed was a Marshall Plan level of investment, but the US was not prepared to invest this money in Africa.

Instead, what Africa got (during the 1980s and 1990s) was Structural Readjustment Policies which encouraged ‘budgetary belt tightening’ which left many African countries poorer by 2000 than they were in the 1960s immediately after the end of colonial rule. Sachs says that these policies had little scientific merit and produced little results

Deeper Causes of African Poverty

Sach’s starts of this section by pointing out that the corruption levels between 1980 – 2000, as measured by Transparency International, were higher in various Asian countries (for example Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) compared to various African countries (for example Malawi and Mali), and yet Asian countries grew at around 3% a year, while Africa stalled. NB – it’s worth noting as a quick aside that a 3% year on year growth rate might not sound like a lot, but over 20 years this compounds signficantly.

Sachs draws on his visits to Sub-Saharan Africa (the first in 1995) to explain the factors which have hindered economic growth…..

Environmental factors hinder attempts towards economic growth – Disease, Drought and distance from world markets are all features of the African environment – Adam Smith, in fact, noted in 1776 that Africa lacked the kind of navigable rivers which gave Europe an advantage in world trade.

To emphasise this Sachs also talks about just how dispersed the rural populations of Africa are, which, combined with poor soil fertility, hinder their ability to produce sufficient food for themselves, let alone producing enough to export.

Then he gets onto the prevalence of disease – AIDS was already rampant by the mid 90s, but he also cites Malaria – he states that all of his Africa Colleages lost a few days a year to boughts of Malaria, some of the boughts being serious and leading to hospitalisation. He says that nowhere on earth had he experienced so much illness and death as in Sub-Saharan Africa – in the year 2000, SSA’s LE stood at 47, a good 20 years below Asia’s and 30 years below Europes.

According to the historian Angus Maddison, SSA had experienced the lowest levels of economic growth in the world even before colonial times, which leads Sachs to theorise that the disease burden may be able to explain both this long-term historical low economic growth rate and the more recent low growth rate.

There are some other factors which might explain low growth – Firstly poor leadership is sufficient to explain this in the case of Zimbabwe.

Next Sachs asks why there is such a lack of Free Trade Zones for exporting in Africa, given that these were the path to growth which Asian countries used form the late 1960s onwards, which grew mainly through exporting garments. There is one African country which did the same – Mauritius in 1968 – Here one ethnic-Chinese academic on the island happened to visit his brother in Taiwan . The brother was playing a lead role in the new export processing zones which were then being established in Taiwan, and his brother took the concept back to Mauritious, and the rest is history….

He then points out that free market reforms would not work in African countries which were caught in a poverty trap, especially those which are landlocked (15 countries are in Africa) – even those which had generally good governance.

 
The Malaria Mystery

Malaria is an entirely treatable disease, and yet it still claims 3 million lives a year, 90% of which are in Africa. After pointing to the correlation between low GDP and Malaria and then asks four questions….

Is it Malaria that causes poverty, or vice-versa? Or both?

Why was the Malaria problem so much worse in Africa

What was being done about the Malaria problem?

What more could be done?

 

Is it Malaria that causes poverty, or vice, versa, or both….?

Both –

Poor countries cannot afford Malarial prevention strategies – such as spraying with insecticide or putting up treated mosiquito nets, or even houses with doors and windows which keep the mosquitos out.

Malaria also prevents econommic growth – not only because of work days lost, but also because mass illness can stop infrastructure development projects in their tracks – Sachs reminds us that the building of the Panama canal was hindered because of Malaria.

Malaria also means high birth rates – when children die, parents overcompensate and have more children…. then large numbers of children and poverty means the family can only afford to educate one child, so large numbers of children enter adulthood with no education.

It also means those children who do get an education taking time of school because of sickness and poor education.

In short (p199) ‘Malaria sets the perfect trap: it impoverishes a country, making it too expensive to prevent and treat the disease. Thus malaria continues and poverty deepens in a truly vicious cycle.

Why is Africa more vulnerable than other regions?

Basically because of the disease ecology – a combination of high temperatures (the parasite develops faster), moist breeding grounds, and a variety of mosquito which prefers bighting humans rather than cattle means the transmission rate is higher in SSA than Europe and Asia (with the exception of Papua New Guinea). This all leads to the transmission rate being 9 times faster in Africa than it is in Asia.

However, Malaria is treatable and a combination of spraying, bed nets, and anti-malarial drugs means that no child at least needs to die from the disease.

What was being done (in 1995) to combat Malaria?

Hardly anything – tens of millions were being spent in aid, when $2-3 billion was required ($5billion a year in today’s money)…. The world bank was too busy arging for budget cuts and privatisation to even notice Malaria.

Africa’s AIDS cataclysm

Why is AIDs more of a problem in Africa?

No one’s really sure – the common assumption is that people have more sexual partners in Africa, although data puts this in doubt – So it might be that the patterns of copulation are different (more older men with younger women), it might be more concurrent relationships (faster turn over), it might be less use of condoms.

What are economic costs of AIDs?

This is possibly worse than Malaria, at the time 10s of millions of deaths – and many adults dying – teachers/ doctors/ civil servants, not to mention the strain on the health services, the heads of households being ill and the orphaned children. Also businesses don’t invest out of fear.

What was being done?

By the late 1990s, Anti-retroviral therapy in the West was giving people with AIDS hope – which meant more people were coming forwards to be tested for the disease, but only $70 million was being spent on combatting the disease in SSA. Apparantly the World Bank did not make one single loan specifically for combatting AIDs in the Africa from between 1995-2000.

Eventally Sachs ended up charing a WHO commission on macroeconomics and health which made the case for economic investment in health to improve economic development. They found eight major causes of disease in Africa – of which AIDs and Malaria were the top two.

The commission also suggested that $27 billion of aid focussed on health a year could save 8 million lives – equivalent to 1/000 of the combined annual income of all donor countries.

The birth of the global fund to fight AIDs, TB and Malaria

This was established in 2001, following agreement from drugs companies to provide AIDs drugs for the $500 cost price (for low income countries) rather than the $10000 market price in high income countries.However, there is still an ongoing battle to secure funding and encourage low income countries to implement the necessary procedures to make all this worthwhile.

Lessons learned

In the final section of this chapter Sachs reminds us that Africa faces other barriers to growth rather than just disease – he notes that a combination of environment and poverty creates a poverty trap – He comes back again to the point that intermittent rain fall doesn not help crop fertility, but also the fact that the most heavily populated areas are the most fertile regions in Africa – which is Rwanda (and DRC I thought) – basically inland areas furthest away from the coast.

However, he notes that there are many things which could be done to assist Africa – Poor soil can be improved by organic and artificial fertilisers, irrigation schemes could help – (Africa, basically, needs its own Green Revolution), and infrastructure improvement could connect inland rural populations.

At the end of the day – if a combined effort of the International Community and African Countries can combat Malaria and AIDs, then the same can be done to improve farming and develop roads and electric infrastructure.

I’m reminded about one quote from near the beginning of the book – What does Africa need to focus on most urgently – health/ education/ infrastructure or what – the truth is, everything at once.

The chapter rounds off by mentioning that this was about to be put in place big time by the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 – Which Sachs played a central role in….

 

Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Five – Community

Bauman starts of the chapter summarising the liberal-communitarian debate about the relationship beetween the individual and society.

He reminds us that the individual according to the likes of Kant, Descartes and Baccon, could come to truth by using pure reason, and that all individuals if just left alone from the distortions of community would arive at the same notions of truth.

Communitarians criticised this by pointing out that the individual could never be free because individuals are socialised – e.g. through language.

But Bauman points out that it was never clear whether the critiques were saying that the image of the self-contained individual was untrue or just harmful.

Today, says Bauman, the liberal-communitarian debate concerns whether or not liberating the individaul from communal constraints is good or bad. Also today, communities are more like a light cloak rather than an iron cage and the reason why we are concerned for community is because it is in decline. Furthemore, communities when spoken about are postulated – we can comment on them because we are not really bound by them, they are a choice.

Sociologically speaking, communitarianism is an expected reaction to the liquification of life…. yet today the word community is used loosely… the community in today’s communitarian gospel is not that of Gemeinschaft, it is to be chosen (and we have no choice but to choose) – a choice between different identity reference groups.

However…. the communal world is complete in so far as all the rest is… hostile – a wilderness with enemies. The inner harmony of the communal world shines and glitters against the background of the obscure and tangled jungle outside. It is there, to that wilderness, that people huddling in the warmth of shared identity dump (or hope to banish) the fears which prompted them to seek communal shelter. In Jock Young’s words ‘The desire to demonize others is based on the ontological uncertainties’ of those inside. An ‘inclusive community’ would be a contradiction in terms. Communal fraternity would be incomplete without that inborn fratricidal inclination.

(172-176) Nationalism, mark 2

The community of the communitarian gospel is an ethnic community – the choice is either between being at home or being homeless – it is an essentialising idenitity, (a master identity?).

Here Bauman argues that the nation state was the only success story of ‘community’ in modern times.  he discusses the similarities between nationalism and patriotism (both are basically agressive, not gentle) before suggesting that both are based on exluding others – nationalism is closed, and relies on the vomitting out strangers approach, but at least patriotism is more open ended, it invites people in – but only with the aim of ingesting their difference, still leaving others outside.

(176 – 182) Unity – through similarity or difference?

Both Nationalism and Patriotism depend on ‘othering’ – Unity comes from setting up a boundary and then emphasising the difference between us and them.

He now draws on Bernard Crick to propose another type of unity – that based on unity and conciliation – were people pursue self-identification in a multitude of ways and the ‘polis’ is one of onging negotiation and conciliation of differences.

This later, argues Bauman is the only one which is compatible with liquid modernity (so nationalism is no longer relevant?) – Now that disembededness/ individualisation etc. are so advanced, we must either construct a society in which different people can live together collectively, negotiating and reconciling their differences, or we create a society in which we basically avoid eachother and those who are different to us.

We seem to be in the process of creating the later, at least those in power do….. as evidenced in cyber-enclaves and gated communities, which are privatised solutions to insecurity which cost (while we leave the poor outside in ghettos).

He now sites Sennet who puts a pyscho-sociological gloss on this….

The image of the community is purified of all that may convey a feeling of difference, let alone conflict, in who ‘we’ are. In this way the myth of community solidarity is a purification ritual…. What is distinctive about this mythic sharing in communities is that people feel they belong to eachother, and share together, because they are the same… the ‘we’ feeling, which expresses the desire to be similar, is a way for men to avoid the necessity of looking deeper into each other.

Bauman goes on to say that this is also a bid to avoid confronting vexing questions such as whether the self, frightened and lacking in self-confidence is actually work loving in the first place and whether it deserves to be the basis of a design for society.

In another place (In search of politics 1999) I have discussed the unholy trinity of uncertainty, insecurity and unsafety… each one generating anxiety… with the access to the sources of these out of reach, the pressure shifts elsewhere, to the realm of bodily, domestic and environmental safety. As a result the ‘safety problem’ tends to be chronically overloaded with worries and cravings it can neither carry away or unload. The unholy alliance results in the perpetual thirst for more safety, a thirs which no practical measures can quell since they are bound to leave the primary and perpetually prolific sources of uncertainty untouched.

(182-184) Security at Price

Communitarianism assumes that the cost of increased security is individual freedom. The two cannot be increased simultaneously. Also, the vision of communitarianism is one of an island that protects against the stormy sea, the idea of mastering the sea itself is already abandoned.

Bauman now draws on Durkheim – Society for Durkheim (a view credible at the time) is that body under whose protection we shelter from the horror of our own transcience…. he cites the following quote to emphasise how irrelevant Durkheim’s vie are today… ‘Actions which have a lasting quality are worthy of our volition, only pleasures which endure are worthy of our desires’.

The body and its desires are now longer lived than in Durkheim’s day, but nearly everything else is more transcient – hence the body (along with community) is the only place we can look to for security.

He rounds off this section by suggesting that the body and the community are the only places where we might find security and certainty, and they are lonely places. This has happened because the Nation State has dissolved itself of the responsibility of providing security, or of guaranteeing the security of its citizens.

(185-192) After the Nation-State

There is little hope of salvaging the security and certainty servicecs of the state. This has been erroded by the new global powers (of capital) with the awesome extraterritoriality, speed of movement and evasion/ escape ability; retribution for violating the new global brief is swift and merciless. Indeed, the refusal to play the game by the new global rules is the most mercilessly punishable crime, which the state powers, tied to the ground by their own territorially defined sovereignty, must beware of committing and avoid at all cost….. More often than not, punishment is economic. Insubordinate governments, guilty of protectionist policies or generous public provisions for the ‘economically redundant’ sectors of their populations’ would be refused loans or denied reduction on their debts; local currencies would be made global lepers, speculated against and pressed to devalue, local stocks would fall head down on global exchanges… global investors would withdraw.

Sometimes actual war is necessary, as was the case with Yugoslavia….

Bauman now outlines how history up until heavy modernity was a war over space….. between the settled and the nomads, bewteen the bigger and the smaller,  no longer, today the war is between the quick and the slow. He then argues that what global capitalism wants is the right to be free from commitments, while leaving the tricky issue of security to local goverments, at whatever level these exist.

Four pages are now devoted to outlining the failures of NATO’s attempts to police conflicts. Bauman argues the trend is likely to be to less engagement in local conflicts (the let the war burn itself out approach), before rounding off the chapter suggesting that globalisation has lead to increasing conflicts between communities rather than promoting the peaceful coexistence of communities.

(192-199) Filling the Void

Following Hobsbawm – TNCs would prefer a world with no nation states, or at least smaller states, because these are less powerful and easier to buy. Bauman likes Gidden’s juggernaut analogy, and further suggests that nation states desperately try steer it competitively – they have no choice but to try and attract economic forces favourably because votes depend on it.

The future is one of either supranational regulatory institutions or increasing precariatisation (following Bordieu) – Either way the NS will decline… If this continues, and possibly loses its monopoly on coercion (one if its defining features according to Weber and Elias), it is not at all certain that less violence would be the result. We might just see violence descend to the neo-tribal level.

What could fill this void are what Bauman calles explosive communities, which are born in violence and require violence to continue.

Bauman now draws on Rene Girard’s work on the role of violence in community. Gerard argues that a violent urge is always seeting beneath any community….. To deal with this it needs to be channelled and it is channelled outside of the community – Boundaries are drawn, others created, and unity of the community is periodically enforced by choosing victims from the others to sacrfice. (NB this is all very abstract!)

He now makes a few qualifications, but to be honest I only skim read the rest of this section as I’m not especially interested in this aspect of Bauman’s work at this time, although the point seems to be that explosive communities require violence to define themselves.

Cloakroom Communities

Bauman rounds off by saying that such explosive communities are also cloakroom communities – I’m not sure the word works, it’s supposed to capture their addiction to spectacle the high emotion. He also calls them carnival communities, a better choice of word.

Finally, Bauman mentions that such communities offer no means of grounding the individual, they do not adequately address the destabilising forces which give birth to them!

Work in Low Pay, No Pay Britain

In this latest Thinking Allowed podcast on ‘Low pay, no pay’ Britain Laurie Taylor talks to the sociologist, Tracy Shildrick, about her prize winning study of individuals and families who are living in or near poverty. The research was conducted in Teesside, North East England, and focuses on the men and women who’ve fallen out of old working class communities and must now cope with drastically reduced opportunities for standard employment. To my mind, this is a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat (although Shildrick would be more cautious).

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The research is based on the book (published in 2012) – Poverty and insecurity Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain by Tracy Shildrick

This book explores how men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced and where people exist without predictability or security in their lives, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment.

Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women this research challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain.

Below is a summary of the main points of the podcast

  • The low-pay no-pay cycle is much more common than long-term unemployment. Most people intreviewed were committed to work, even though the jobs they did were not ‘comfortable’ jobs. This was one of their most consistent findings…. which in part explains why these people go back time and time again. This of course is the opposite to what we here in the media about people ‘languishing on benefits’.
  • It is not a guarantee that taking up employment will mean an individual is going to better off than on benefits. Most people were ashamed at having to claim benefits.
  • Jobs typically did not last long enough to take workers away from poverty.
  • In work-poverty is – 66% of poverty live in households were at least one person is in-work.
  • The types of work include factory jobs, bars, customer service, often run through agencies.
  • For the people interviewed these type of jobs are not stepping stones to something better – they get one foot on the rung of the ladder, get knocked off, and have to climb back on again.
  • Shildrick is not convinced that the term ‘Precariat’ is accurate enough to describe adequately the experience of all people who are sometimes put into this category. She argues that the experiences of the people she interviewed are different to those of a graduate working for a few years in similar jobs (although the people she interviewed do seem to fit into the definition of the Precariat used by the GBCS below)
  • In response to the idea that better training is the solution to helping people in these jobs, Shildrick suggests we need to look at the bigger picture – society needs these jobs – we need to think ahout how to reward them more appropriately.

Shildrick suggests that it is ultimately employers who have the power to help people out of this cycle. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be of employers being increasingly inflexible while demanding that employees be more flexible.

Links –

1. This seems to be a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat

2. Also a nice illustration of the effects of living in liquid-modernity – The reality is actually bleaker for them than the above research might suggest – As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us (in Liquid Modernity)- ‘The bottom category are the easeist to replace, and  now they are disposabe and so that there is no point in entering into long term commitments with their work colleagues…..  this is a natural response to a flexibilised labour market. This leads to a decline in moral, as those who are left after one round of downsizing wait for the next blow of the axe.

Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf

Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Four – Work

Chapter Four – Work

Bauman begins by citing, amongst others, Henry Ford as an example of someone who epitomised Modernity’s attitude towards work in relation to time. Work, done in the present, was valuable because it was driving history forwards. Those in power had such a belief in their hold over the present that they could look forward with confidence, feeling they could plan the future, control it. Progress, says Bauman, is a declaration that history is not relevant.

(132 – 140) Progress and Trust in History

Progress stands not for any quality of history, but of a self-confidence in the present. Faith in progress stems from two things – the belief that time is on our side, and that we are the ones who make things happen. As Alain Peyrefitte put it – the only resource capable of making mass transformations is trust in society now and in the future we will share.

Are we propelled into the future by the horrors of the past, or are we dragged towards it by the hope of better things to come? The sole evidence by which to make a judgement is the play of memory and imagination, and what links or seperates them is our self confidence or its absence. To the former, progress is an axiom, to the later the idea is laughable.

Aside for H. Ford quote about excercise – ‘Excercise is bunk. If you are healthy, you don’t need it; if you are sick, you won’t do it.’

Today, we have lost our self-confidence and thus our trust in progress because….

Firstly there is a lack of an agency able to ‘move the world forwards – this is because the state remains fixed to a locality, but power flows well beyond its reach, and thus power has flowed from politics – thus we no longer know who it is that is going to move society forwards (thus our main question is not what is to be done, but who is going to do it)

Secondly, the idea of the ‘great society’ is dead – The ones that were planned (Marxism and economic liberalism) have both failed to live up to their expectations, and anyone who proposes a grand plan today is laughed out of court.

However, the modern idea of progress, even if there can be no salvation by society, is not one that is likely to end soon….. the life of modern men is still understood as a task, something to be worked on, it is something to be made…. The question  is, what might progress actually look like in the age of ‘no salvation by society’?

The idea of progress has been deregulated and privatised – deregulated because the offers to ‘upgrade’ present realities are many and diverse and whether something counts as an upgrade is open to contest, also we can’t be certain if what we do will result in upgrading) , and privatised because individuals are called upon to use their own individual wits to improve their lives.

He now quotes Beck’s risk society – The tendency is towards the emergence of individualised forms and conditions of existence….. one has to choose and change one’s social identity as well as take the risks of doing so…. The individual himself or herself becomes the reproduction unit of the social in the lifeworld.

The problem is that the feasibility of progress rests on our hold on the present but we llive in a world of universal flexibility… under conditions of acute and prospectless Unsicherheit, penetrating all aspects of individual life – the sources of livelihood as much as the partnerships of love or common interests, parameters of professional as much as cultural identity, modes of presentation of self in public as much as patterns of health and fitness, values worth pursuing as much as the way to pursue them. And we all know from experience that plans may not work out like we plan them.

Bauman now suggests that Chaos Theory in science fits the mood of liquid modernity perfectly.

Where science and work use to anchor us to the present and guide us to the future (basically giving us structure), now they do not, and as we lose hold on the present, the less the future can be embraced… Stretches of time labelled future get shorter and the time-span of life as a whole is sliced into episodes dealt with ‘one at a time’. Continuity is no longer the mark of progress, life has become much more episodic.

Jacques Attali suggest that the labyrinth is the image which illustrates our ideas of the future. Chance or surprise rule in the labyrinth rather than pure reason.

Today work does not offer us a secure route to the future, it is more characterised by ‘tinkering’, and it does not have that fundamental grounding feature it had in the heavy modern period. For most people work is now judged on its aesthetic value – how satisfying it is of itself…. it can no longer give us satisfaction on the basis of ‘driving the nation forwards’, instead it is judged on its capacity to be entertaining or amusing.

(140-147) The rise and fall of labour

This section is simply a classic statement that industrialisation lead to freeding labour from the land, only to be tied to the Fordist Factory, but at least unionised Labour and Capital were equally as tide to eachother – and came to be backed up by the welfare state. All of this gave some measure of stability.

(148 – 154) From marriage to cohabitation

The present day uncertainty is a powerful individualising force. It divides instead of uniting. The idea of ‘common interests’ grows ever more nebulous and loses all pragmatic  value.

He now follows Bordieu, Granovetter and Sennet to flesh out how changes in the conditions of unemployment have led to workers seeing traditional unionisation as being inadequate because of episodic, temporary work placements – there is little change for mutual loyalty and commitment to take root and this goes hand in hand with disenchantment. The place of employment now feels like a camping site.

Bauman likens this loosening of ties between labour and capital as being like cohabitation…. in the background is the assumption of temporariness….. but this disengagement is  unilaterial,,,, capital has cut itself free from the needs of this particular bunch of labourers. Capital, of course, is not as volatile as it wants to be, but it is extraterratorial, lighter than ever.

To an unprecented degree politcs has become a tug of war between the speed with which capital can move and the slowing down capacities of local powers to ward off the  threat of capital disinvesment, and paradoxically, one of the ways local authorities can keep capital in place is by allowing it freedom to leave.

Today, speed of movement has become perhaps the paramount factor of social stratification and the hierarchy of domination…. The main sources of profits seem to be ideas rather than in material objects… and the objects of competition here are the consumers, not the producers.

He now cites Reich’s four categories of work…From top to bottom – decreasing status.

Symbol manipualtors

The reproduction of labour

Personal services

Routine Labourers

The bottom category are the easeist to replace, and they now they are disposabe and so that there is no point in entering into long term commitments with their work colleagues…..  this is a natural response to a flexibilised labour market. This leads to a decline in moral, as those who are left after one round of downsizing wait for the next blow of the axe.

At the other end of the pole are those for whom space matters little – They do not own factories, nor occupy administrative posititons – Their knowledge comes from a portable asset – knowledge of the laws of the labyrinth…. to them novelty is good, precariousness is value, they love to create and play and embrace volatility.

Bauman now relays a tale of being in an airport lounge and seeing two business men spend and hour and a half each on their phones conducting business as if the other did not exist – such people, he says, exist in outer space – they are not connected to any particular locality.

He now turns to Nigel Thrift’s essay on soft capitalism who focuses on its vocabulary – surfing, networks, coalitions, fuzzy logic…. this is an ambigous and chaotic world where knowledge ages quickly.

He rounds off by saying that those who are in charge are viritually networked and for them information moves at an incredible pace…. the life expectancy of knowledge is short, they live in a world of the perpetuality of new beginnings.

However, such people are ‘remotely controlled’ – they are dominated and controlled in a new way – leadership has been replaced by the spectacle, and surveillance by seduction.

(155-160) Excursus: a brief history of procrastination

Cras, in Latin, means tomorrow. To procrastinate is to manipulate the possibilities of the presence of a thing by putting ott, delaying and postponing its becoming present, keeping it at a distance and deferring its immediacy.

Procrastination as a cultural practice came into its own with dawn of modernity. Its new meaning and ethical signficance derived from the new meaningfulness of time, from time having a history, from time being history.

Procrastination is what makes life meaninful. To illustrate this, Bauman spends some time outlining the meaning of the pilgrim in modernity. The pilgrim is someone who is going somewhere, but they are alllowed the time to reflect on where it is they are going, thus the pilgrimage is meaningful. The pilgrim’s life is a travel-towards-fulfilment, and travelling towards fulfillment gives the pilgrim’s life its meaning,but the meaning it gives is blighted with a suicidal impulse; that meaning cannot survive the completion of its destiny.

Procrastination reflects this ambivalence…. the pilgrim procrastinates in order to be better prepared to grasp things that truly matter.

The attitudinal/ behavourial precept which laid the foundation of modern society and rendered the modern way of being-in-the-world both possible and inescapable was the principle of ‘delay of gratification’… without this, there is no idea of progress.

Procrastination, in the form of ‘delay of gratification’ (he’s pushing the definition of procrastination here!) says Bauman ‘put sowing above harvesting, and investing above creaming off the savings, but this delay also elevated the status of the end product to be consumed…. the more severe the self-restraint, the greater would be, eventually, the opportunity for self-indulgence. Do save, since the more you save, the more money you will be able to spend. Do work, sine the more you work, the more you will consume.

Owing to its ambivalence procrastination fed two opposite tendencies. One led to the work ethic another led to the aesthetic of consumption…. however, today we no longer value delay of gratification, this is just seen as hardship plain and simple!

Today we live in a ‘casino culture’ – we don’t want to wait for our pleasures, we want them immediately, in this moment, and moreover, each moment of pleasure lasts for a shorter and shorter instant… thus procrastination is under attack – under pressure are the delay of gratifications arrival, and the delay of its departure.

I think this might be the most importat bit….

In modern society, the ethic of delayed gratification justified the work ethic, and we may need something similar to in the consumer society…. we need the principle of disatisfaction to justify the central role of desire….

To stay alive and fresh desire must, time and time again, be gratified, yet gratification spells the end of desire. A society ruled by the aesthetic (NB not ethic) of consumption needs a very special kind of gratification, akin to the Derridean phamakon – the healing drug and poison both at the same time, administered slowly and never in its final dose…. a gratification not really gratifying.

Today, our culture wages a war agains procrastination, a war against taking distance, reflection, continuity and tradition, a war against what Heidegger’s ‘modality of being’.

(PP160-165) Human bonds in the Fluid World

The feeling of our time summed up in works such as ‘Risk Society’ involves a combination of the experience of…

insecurity -of position, entightlements, livelihood

uncertainty – about continutation and future stability

unsafety – of one’s body, one’s self and their extensions… possessions and neighbourhoods.

Bauman now suggests that, in terms of livelihood, unemployment is structural and all we need do is look around to see that no one is in a really secure job…. and in this context, immediate gratification is rational. It makes even more sense when we know that fashions come and go (enjoy it now or the moment is gone) and that assets can become liabilities.

Precarious economic and social conditions make people look at objects as disposable, for one off use…. the individual should travel light.. and we apply this to things as well as to human bonds (which rot and disintegrate if not worked at).

Partnerships today tend to be seen as things to be consumed, not produced. In the consumer market, the ostensibly durable products are as a rule offered for a trial period, return promised if the purchaser is less than fully satisfied. If the partner in partnership is conceptualised in such terms, then it is no longer the task of both people to make the relationship work – til death do us part no longer applies, as soon as our partner ceases to give us pleasure, we look to discard and replace them. This leads to temporariness in relationships.

There is also somthing of the self-fulfilling prophecy about this!

Perceiving the world, complete with its inhabitants, as a pool of consumer items makes the negotation of human bonds exceedingly hard. Insecure people tend to be irritable, they are also deeply intolerant of anything that stands in the way of thier desires, and since quite a few of their desires are bound to be frustrated, there are plenty of things and

people to be intolerable of. (NB I think he’s arguing that it is lack of face to face stable human bonds that leads to insecurity, unertainty, unsafety, and then that leads to insecurity). He rounds off the section by suggesting that consumption is also lonely, unlike production which requires co-operation towards a joint goal.

(165 -167) The self-perpetuation of non-confidence

Alain Peyrefitte suggested that the common, uniting feature of modern capitalist society was confidence – in oneself, in institutions and in others. They all sustained one another. Together, these three formed the foundational structure of modernity – enabling investment in the future. Employment-Enterprise was the most important of these.

This is no longer the case… no one expects to be in the same job ten years from now, and many of us would prefer to risk our pensions on the stock-market. Bauman also reminds us again of the power imbalance – the precariat especially, bound to the local, are incresingly subject to the whims of capital, which the state is unlikeley to regulate.  I think his point at the end is that the old labour movements are dead (again it’s not that clear).

A Brief History of International Development Aid

I’m in the middle of writing a critique of Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid – mainly because the book uses highly selective evidence to promote neo0liberal ideology – but I will concede that the way Moyo conceptualises the history of development aid from the 1940s is a fairly useful teaching tool for A level Global Development – so here’s a brief summary of the second chapter of the book – (NB I said useful conceptually for A level, I’m not actually implying that her account is factually accurate – thankfully when you’ve got an exam board that lives in a 1980s timewarp, the actual facts aren’t necessarily that important for the exam)

Moyo splits ‘the history of aid’ up into ‘seven phases’ – starting with the earliest days of Bretton Woods in the mid 1940s – which saw the establishment of institutions such as the IMF, then outlines details of the Marshall Plan in the 1950s – but I’m going to start my brief summary with the third phase in the 1960s -which are followed in each successive decade with next four phases.

The 1960s – The decade of Industrialisation

The Kariba DamHere there was a shift to to the development of large scale industrial projects, with funding going directly to governments in African countries and coming primarily from the  USA, but also from European governments.

A good example of this is the Kariba hydroelectric dam that straddles the boarder between Zambia and Zimbabwe – began under British colonial rule in the 1950s and finally completed in 1977 at a cost of $480 million.

While pointing out that records from the 1960s are not perfect, Moyo sites the following stats for country receipts of aid by the mid 1960s –

  • Ghana – $90 million
  • Kenya, Malawi and Zambia – all having recieved an averge of about $315 million

The 1970s – the shift to a poverty focus

This historical period starts with the 1973 Arab embrago on oil, which lead to oil price rises, followed by food price rises and recession across Africa. In 1975, for example, Ghana’s eGDP contracted by 12% and inflaction had risen to more than 100% by 1977.

In practical terms this lead to aid being redirected away from large infrastructure projects and towrds rurual projects in agriculture and rural development and social services – such as innoculation programmes, housing and literacy campaigns. By the end of the 1970s, the proportion of aid allocated to social service had increased from 10% (in the previous decade) to over 50%. Much of this aid came in the form of concessional loans which would need to be paid back.

Moyo also notes that despite the increasing inflows of aid, increasing numbers of people in Africa were falling into poverty.

The 1980s: Neoliberalism, Structural Adjustment and the lost age of development

Moyo begins – By the end of the 1970s, Africa was awash with aid. In total, the continent had ammassed around $36 billion in foreign assistance. This decade saw a shift away from governments giving aid and towards multilateral aid – with the World Bank and the IMF playing a more central role. Also, aid became focussed less on poverty reduction and more focussed on assisting (some may read coercing) developing world governments to adopt free-market policies.

The 1979 oil spike, precipitaed by the Iran-Iraq war lead to more financial problems for Africa as Western financial institutions responded to the corresponding price increases by raising interest rates – which meant that Africa’s debt service payments reached around $8 billion in 1982, while at the same time, worldwide recession meant declining income from exports, meant that in the 1980s, 11 African countries were eventually defaulted on their debts.

The solution to this crisis was to ‘restructure the debt’. Thus the IMF formed the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility – to lend more money to defaulting nations to help them. Of course this in itself did little to actually alleviate Africa’s problems – it was still dependent on concessionary loans from the West.

At the same time as this restructuring – there was also an ideological shift amongst donors – towards ‘neoliberalism’ – and aid now shifted so that when governments received it they had to agree to instigate ‘free-market reforms’ – minimising the role of the state, privatising previously nationalised industries, liberalising trade (less restrictions on private companies and exports/ imports) and reducing the number of government employees.)

Between 1986 and 1996 six African countries – Benin, the CAR, Guineas, Madagascar, Mali and Uganda shed more than 10% of their civil workforce, and overall across Africa, many industries were privatised.

The 1990s – A question of good governance

By the end of the 1980s, emerging-market countries’ debt was at lest $1 trillion — and the cost debt servicing had become so substantial that from 1987-1989 there was a net outflow of money from poor to rich countries of $15 a year.

Having seen the failure of aid in previous decades, donor institutions now laid the blame for Africa’s economic woes at the door of weak political leadership and institutions and there was an increased focus on the need to link aid to the promotion of good governance – in other words, credible institutions, transparent rule of law and freedom from corruption. There was also a growing belief that African countries needed a dose of Western Democracy in order to develop.

Moyo also notes that the increasing link between aid and democratic accountability was aided by that fact that in the 1990s, the cold war was thawing, which meant an end to the US and Russia providing aid to politcally dubious regimes in Africa for military purposes.

Finally, the later part of the 1990s saw the rise of ‘donor fatigue’ – ODA peaked in 1992 at a high of $17 billion and then fell to £12 billion in 1999.

The 2000s – the rise of glamour aid

While I think her overview of the preceding decades of development aid is useful, her casting of ODA in the most recent decade is flippant. She

Bono (pronounced Bohnoh) 'feeding the world'

fails to even mention that aid targetting came to be better informed by the 8 Millennium Development Goals, or the new philanthropy headed up by Bill Gates. Instead Moyo simply casts the 2000s as the era in which a new army of moral campaigners took to our TV screens – most noteably Bono, who not only wrote the forward to Jeffrey Sach’s 2005 ‘End of Poverty’ but also met with world leaders to discuss development issue and campaing for more aid to combat Africa’s problems. The only other substantive example she mentions about aid in the 2000s is the ‘Jubilee debt campaign.

So there you have it – with the exception of the last decade, a useful, if somewhat generalised account of the history of Western Development aid over the last half century.

Do we have an innate sense of fairness?

This provides a potential missing link between system and agency in explaining why inequality leads to violence such as riots… How Growing Inequality Hurts the Middle Class by Robert H. Frank (2007) – Even though it’s not focussed on those suffering real deprivation – if inequality hurts those in the middle this much – it can surely be applied to help explain why the really deprived in unequal societies might occassionally display signs of anti-social behaviour… Of course you may have seen this, but it’s relatively new to me, even though it’s four years old…

Frank offers up considerable evidence that human beings have an innate sense of justice – they care about their position relative to others and feel that if they are not getting their fare share in relation to their peers, then a sense of injustice and negative emotions arise – most notably anger… (taken from the text)
Do you teach kids to care about relative position or do they just discover it on their own?

Why not try the 'orange juice' expt. on your kids?

I was curious and did an experiment with my two older boys when they were young. David was seven and Jason was five, and it was a three day experiment. I gave them each a full glass of orange juice on the first day. I watched them each day. What did they do? Nothing on the first day! I cut them back to a half glass on day 2. Did they complain? “Why did we get only half a glass?” No, they again drank their orange juice without comment. The pay-off was day 3. David got 7/8 of a glass, Jason ¾—what psychologists call a “just noticeable difference,” where you need to carefully make sure there is a difference. Sure enough – I could see Jason’s eyes go back and forth between the two glasses. He could tell it wasn’t going to play out well if he complained, but he just couldn’t bottle it up any longer. He finally blurted out “That’s not fair. He always gets more than me.” We don’t teach them to do that, they just do it.

He goes on to provide an excellent account of evidence for greater equality leading to greater pyschological well-being  

So this is basically to pyschology what the Spirit Level is to Sociology – and I believe that Will Hutton in ‘Them and Us’ builds a similar arguement…although I’ve only just skimmed that book thus far – but while the war against the unread pile may be unwinnable, I think we are making ground in the war against neoliberalism in general and the Tories in particular…Check out the latest Yougov polls for some encouraging signs on this.  

 

Good Economic Policy Does Not Require Good Economists

Hi, just a brief summary of the penultimate chapter of ’23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’

The key point of this chapter is that many economic success stories are to be found in countries where economic policy was not run by ‘expert economists’ – East Asian countries  in the 1980s are cases in point – especially and most obviously China.  It is only since the rise of neoliberal economics and the Chicago School (of economics, not sociology!) especially that economic experts and policy has basically screwed the majority.

This chapter also offers a good summary-critique of neoliberalism. I thought I’d just share a few choice sections – It’s nice to see such a succinct, potted critique – reminds you of just how horrific neoliberalism is!

‘During the last three decades the increasing influence of ‘free- market’ economics has resulted in poorer economic performance all over the world – lower economic growth, greater economic instability, increased inequality and finally culminatingin the disaster of the 2008 world financial crisis. Insofar as we need economics, we need different kinds of economics from free-market economics.’

Chang then points out that many of the fastest growing economies of the last 5 decades did not practise free market economics – [most obviously China], and he goes on to say that ‘there are reasons to think that [neoliberal free market] economics may be positively harmful for the economy… Over the last three decades, economists played an important role in creating the conditions of the 2008 financial crisis (and dozens of smaller financial crises that came before it since the early 1980s, – the 1982 Third World debt crisis, the 1995 Mexico peso crisis, the 1997 Asian crisis and the 1998 Russian crisis) by providing theoretical justifation for financial deregulation and the unrestrained pursuit of short term profits. More broadly, they advanced theories that justified policies that lead to slower growth, higher inequalty, heightened job insecurity and more frequent financial crises that have dogged the world in the last three decades.

‘On top of that they pushed for policies that weakened the prospects for long-term development in developing countries. In the rich countires these economists encouraged people to overestimate the power of new technologies, made people’s lives more and more unstable, made them ignore the loss of national control over the economy and rendered them complacement about de-industrialisation. Moreover, they supplied arguments that insist that all those economic outcomes that many in the world find objectionable – such as rising inequality and poverty in poor countries are really inevitable, given selfish and rational human behaviour.”

In short, says Chang, economists (most of whom who have any policy-power subscribe to neoliberalism) has done a huge amount of harm to our society…

The message of hope, and coming back to the title of the post, is that we don’t need expert economists to turn our economy round – so trust ye in the little the guys – such as the E.F. Schumacher brigade, the New Economics Foundation and the guys at http://falseeconomy.org.uk/– the peops therein may not be as well trained as those versed in classical and neoliberal economics, but if they were running the economy, we’d probably all be a lot more prosperous and secure right now.

23 Things they Don’t tell you about Capitalism

Just a few notes and key points from this excellent book by Ha-Joon Chang –

The book basically busts a lot of neoliberal myths. It’s worth noting from the outset that Chang isn’t a Marxist, he accepts that market systems are basically sound, and argues that what we need is a more globalised – Keynsian style of regulation to prevent neoliberal strains of free market fundamentalism.

The book is, unsurprisingly, split into 23 chapters – each chapter briefly outlines ‘one thing market fundamentalists tell us about Capitalism’ and then looks at criticisms of what we are told, thus myth busting neoliberalism and showing it up for the flawed ideology that it is.

To my mind, this is an excellent book, that finds the right balance between an academic and populist tone – the criticisms of Capitalism are made using both easy to understand analogies and stories as well as hard historical – statististical data.

Teachers of A level Sociology can use elements of this in the Global Development Module, or even to illustrate Marxist ideas of ideology (although I imagine more than half of your students just wouldn’t get it!)

Just a few of my favourite myth-buts of neo-liberalism (I’ll add in a more details later!)

Thing 1 – There is no such thing as a free market – Even today markets are regulated at both an international and national level – the most obvious example of this being immigration controls, which, if removed, would lead to mass migrations and significantly lower wages for people in the developed world. Other examples include there not being markets in people (no slavery), organs, and the fact that child labour is illegal.

We regulate some markets to such an extent that we ban trade all together, and thus it is clear that what counts as a ‘free market’ is a political decision. The ‘free market’ today isn’t something that just exists independently of the political sphere – freedoms are restricted when trading in certain goods and services are deemed too harmful or morally unacceptable. This of course lays the foundation for arguing that we should regulate speculative financial and commodity markets given the harm that they cause.

Thing 2Companies should not be run in the interests of their owners – what Chang means by this is that companies should not be run in the interests of shareholders – because shareholders are always after short term returns on their investment – and thus companies are run by managers in order to maximise short term returns (year on year dividends) rather than longer term productivity growth. – Later on in the book (see thing 18) Chang outlines how General Motors recently failed to invest in new technologies to make better cars – which would have made them more competitive with foregin companies, but instead invested billions in setting up new financial services because the short term return on the later was greater – thus pleasing shareholders. The end result of this is that what was once the biggest and most productive company in America was transformed in the space of three decades into a basket case that had to go begging to the US government for a bail out – but the shareholders did very nicely, and now their money’s elsewhere – it’s just the workers and the tax payer that suffered!

In this chapter Chang also provides a brief overview of the development of the Corporation – essentially it emerges that three innovations in Corporate development since the the beginning of last century have lead to the disaster that is modern capitalism – firstly, limited liability, secondly the rise of the managerial class (rather than individual Capitalists) running firms and finally the rise of shareholder ownership – these three things combined, which on their own are not necessarily in themselves bad and were in fact either necessary or desirable to keep Capitalism profitable, these three things combined have created the conditions that make companies work against the interests of the country – because now we have managers who are covered by limited liability and thus free to take risks that are beholden to shareholders to make short term gains. Chang’s not a Marxist, but I’d say this looks like a fetter situation!  

Thing 7 – Free-market policies rarely make poor countries rich

Chang points out that, with only a few exceptions, all of today’s rich countries have become rich through a combination of protectionism, subsidies and other policies that they advise developing countries not to adopt.

Looking at China as a case study – until a decade ago, China was highly protectionist, with an average industrial tariff rate well above 30%, and very visible trade restrictions still remain. The country has restrictions on cross-border flows of capital, a state owned and highly regulated banking sector, and numerous restrictions on foregin ownership of financial assets. Foreign firms often complain about being discriminated against. The country has no elections and is riddled with corruption and has complicated property rights. In particular, its protection of intellectual property rights is weak, making it the piracy capital of the world. The country also has a large number of state owned companies which are propped up with subsidies!

Chang then goes into a wonderful section in which he looks at the economic policies put forward by the previous American Presidents that appear on the different bank notes – many of them protectionist – policies correlated with economic growth throughout previous decades. This deserves a post on its own so I’ll save this for later!

America and China are not exceptions (even if they were – these, along with the UK  are the two most significant  economic powerhouses to have shaped history -OK with China I’m getting a bit Futerist – sorry about that – as a rule I don’t trust Futerists – and neither should you) – there are many countries in different situations that have witnessed economic growth while practising protectionist economic policy – Finland, Denmark, Germany, Taiwan, Korea and Switzerland are all examples.

Most importantly for early econmic development is the protection of ‘infant industries’ – virtually all of today’s rich countries did this early on, and most of them severley restricted foreign investment.

There are essentially three reasons why developing countries should adopt protectionist economic policies rather than opening themselves up the international free market forces –

1. Developing countries are, by definition, undeveloped, they are thus in no state to compete on the world stage with devleoped economies and their advanced technologies and managerial efficiencies. In a similar way, you would not send your 6 year old son out to compete with 26 year olds, you would protect him from the labour market and send him to school, so that when he reaches his 20s he is better educated and thus more competitive. Developing countries should protect their infant industries in a similar way.

2. In early stages of development, markets are especially vulnerable to manipulation by big (read here foreign) actors – and so the government needs to restrict thier behaviour.

3. the govt. needs to do many things itself because there are not enough private sector firms capable of providing what is needed for development.

Despite the above, the IMF has encouraged developing countries to open up their borders and expose their economies to the full force of global competition, using the conditions attached to aid. It’s been a case of ‘do as I say, not do as I did’.

Developing countries have seen a slow down in economic growth since the introduction of free market economic reforms in the 1980s – the 1960s to 70s saw annual growth of 3% while the era of free market reform 1980 -2000 saw growth, but this declined to 1.7%.

To summarise, few countries have become rich through free-trade, free-market policies and few ever will.

Thing 9 – We do not live in a post-industrial age

On the service it appears that manufacturing in the UK has declined hugely in significance – as evidenced by ‘deindustrialisation’ – in the 1970s 35% of the workforce were employed in manufacturing, but this has now dropped to just over 10%. The general line on this is that this doesn’t matter because we are now a post-industrial economy with more people employed in R and D and the service sectors.

However, if you look at things in terms of production and consumptin – it becomes apparent that the decline in manufacturing has not been as rapid as it at first appears – even though we spend more today on services (haircuts for example) – and we spend relatively less on computers – or we might spend as much as we did ten years ago but buy more of them – this is because computers are relatively cheaper than they were ten years ago while haircuts are relatively more expensive. This, in turn, is because computers, and most other industrial products, have become cheeper to manufacture because of productivity growth – technogical innovation meens you can get more computers per worker and so the cost goes down – something which simply cannot happen with haircuts and other face-to-face service jobs to anything like the same extent.

The problem a country like Britain has now got is that many service jobs depend on the industrial sector (most service jobs invovle working with stuff that’s been manufactured somewhere) – but we now have less control over the stuff we produce. Also, it’s difficult to see where our service sector can grow – as services, compared to physical products, are harder to export – consider the lanuguage barriers for a start – and this may well explain our declining rate of econmic growth – in other words, the idea that a service sector economy can carry on growing is pretty much a myth – there are huge barriers to this happening.

Thing 10 – The US does not have the highest living standard in the world

 

Thing 13 – making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer

Thing 23 – Good economic policy does not require good economists.

As always, there are some great reviews on Amazon!